University of Montana students will vote on a $3.50 transportation fee increase per student on this semester’s elections ballot, as the Associated Student of the University of Montana voted to place the fee on the ballot at its Wednesday meeting. 

“We’re going to allow students to vote on if they want this bill,” said Senator Brandon Simpson. “It makes sense for something like this to be taken to students, not just us, acting as stewards on their behalf.”

Because ASUM transportation resources are slim, the group’s transportation office wants to expand its existing resources for the Park-N-Ride, UDASH and biking programs.

“We want to raise the fee to provide resources that will give students the best bang for their buck,” said Benjamin Courteau, director for the ASUM Office of Transportation.

With inflation and increases in minimum wage, pay for ASUM OT bus drivers is no longer competitive, making it difficult to attract new employees, Courteau said.  The ASUM OT employs 45-50 students, most of them drivers, he said.

Courteau said the fee “definitely puts us back up into a competitive range, when compared to other student jobs.”  

ASUM OT would also use the extra finances to minimize the impact of the unpredictability of fuel cost for the Park-N-Ride and UDASH bus systems; it would also be used for bus maintenance, said ASUM OT chair Topher Williams.

“If we keep funding where it’s at, we would see ASUM transportation in the red,” Williams said. “The only way to not see that is to have a fee increase.”

The fee increase will also help to promote sustainable transportation options. With more than 4,500 students biking to UM, ASUM plans to increase resources for bikers, Courteau said.

"There’s a lot of bike commuters on this campus and we'd like to see that our bike programs reflect those numbers," Courteau said.

 ASUM OT wants to reduce bike congestion around and on UM’s campus. The ASUM OT also plans to provide students with repair stations, more bikeways, covered bike parking and an improved bike checkout program.

Covered bike parking is a major initiative for ASUM OT, Courteau said.  The buildings will be the biggest cost for the ASUM OT’s bike program, he said.

The ASUM OT also hopes to expand its existing arsenal of roughly 30 rental yellow bikes, Courteau said.

"The bike program was really groundbreaking when (ASUM OT) came out with it,” Courteau said. “Since then we haven't done a whole lot to modernize it and do anything with it."

ASUM also considered adding an additional position to its administration staff, to stabilize recent growth in ASUM’s budget and oversight. The new position, a chief of staff, would cost ASUM and the University $50,000 in salary.  ASUM would also cover $17,000 in benefits with the position.

The position would be very beneficial to ASUM executives and administration, said ASUM President Zach Brown.  It would provide ASUM with a more stable administration in the long run, he said.

“(ASUM) has grown a lot over the decades,” Brown said. “The thought behind this position is to give some support and intentionality for the next 10 years.”

SEO’s: ASUM, Park-N-Ride, UDASH, Bike Program, Office of Transportation, ASUM OT, Fee Increase, Spring Election, Chief of Staff

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